There’s a small city just inside the Saudi Arabian border that most Westerners have probably never heard of. It is called Najran. Najran is the kind of backwater that gets its public swimming pool listed on Tripadvisor as one of the tourist attractions. Hicksville if ever there was one.
400 miles north of Najran is a city that just about everyone on the planet has heard of. A city visited by millions every year and that is the focus of every Muslim prayer prayed anywhere on the planet. I am, of course, talking about Mecca. To say that Mecca is on the other end of the scale from Najran in terms of name recognition is perhaps to be guilty of the understatement of the century.
It has ever been thus according to traditional Muslim historiography. Mecca is portrayed in Muslim sources (written down 200 years after the events they supposedly describe) as the most important religious and trade center in central Arabia since time immemorial.
Yet, there’s something that should be deeply troubling to any devout Muslim. When we investigate the primary sources (i.e. historical sources that can be definitively traced to the period they describe) a perplexing conundrum emerges. Najran is simply everywhere. Mecca nowhere.
Najran is referred to in the works of the three giants of Roman geographical writing (Strabo, Pliny and Ptolemy). Najran is also referenced in a wide variety of pre-Islamic trade and other geographical descriptions of central Arabia. It is, furthermore, mentioned in several religious texts dealing with the coming of Judaism and Christianity to this part of the Arabian Peninsula.
Perhaps the most famous episode in the history of Najran was the martyrdom (in 524 CE) of the local Christian Bishop. Aretas, and much of his flock were martyred at the hands of the last king of the Himyarite Kingdom Yusuf As’ar Dhu Nuwas. Aretas is still recognized as a saint by both the Eastern Orthodox and the Roman Catholic Church. Because of this the name of Najran was spoken as far away as northern Europe.
I’ve barely scratched the surface as far as historical references to the relatively unimportant and obscure city of Najran is concerned. Today, and in Muslim historiography, it pales in comparison with Mecca, its much more famous northern neighbor in terms of its importance.
Here’s the conundrum. If there is so much historical evidence available for the pre-Islamic existence of the Hicksville of Central Arabia we would logically expect that the historical evidence dealing with Mecca would be orders of magnitude more substantial. Except that it isn’t.
There is, in fact, not a single shred of uncontested primary source evidence for the pre-Islamic existence of Mecca. Nothing, zilch, zip, nada! This is a fact that, to put it mildly, has tremendous implications for the truth-claims of Islam.
I realize that this may seem like a tall tale, but don’t just take my word for it. Examine the evidence by reading my book ‘The Mecca Mystery – Probing the Black Hole at the Heart of Muslim History’